The Work of Greg Clark and Jimmie Frise

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Little Pig Fair

A photograph of Mennonite buggies that are drawn up every month for the fair at Elmira, Ont. Gregory Clark, of The Star Weekly, RIGHT, with one of the many little porkers that go up for auction.
A humorous version of a corner of the Elmira fair, where horses, pigs, farm and home equipment are auctioned off above the clamor of the domestic animals …
Two Mennonite farmers snapped by the photographer at the Elmira Fair.

By Gregory Clark, April 20, 1935

Once a month Elmira, Ontario, holds a town fair. Two or three hundred farmers throng the streets of the town. A great buzz fills the Monday morning, with the drone of auctioneers, the murdered squeals of little pigs, the bawl of cattle and the whinny of horses making a festival sound.

It is many, many years since most of the towns of Canada gave up their monthly fair. But Elmira is different. Elmira has had a town fair since long before the oldest recollection. We searched the records, but there was always a town fair in Elmira.

And if I am any good at seeing towns, then Elmira is one of the wisest little communities in this country. For it is a long time since I have seen a town so busy as Elmira was the Monday morning I wiggled my car through the congestion of cars and horses and buggies and, after two tries, at last took a parking place away down the side street.

For the town was alive and alight with action. In the open spaces auction sales of animals and of secondhand household furniture were going full blast; agricultural implements, wagons and horses were going under the hammerless fists of old-fashioned auctioneers; I saw an axe handle, home-made, go to fifteen cents, then by one-cent bids to twenty and sold for twenty-two. I saw a handsome young farmer buy five little pigs at $4.20 a pig.

“Pigs high?” I commented.

“I lost three litters this month,” said the young man. “We wouldn’t be happy at our house unless we had a litter of pigs to raise for fall. So here they are, high or low.”

And he sunk each screaming pig into an oak sack, stowed the struggling pigs in pokes under the seat of his buggy and, with a lean, clever horse dancing in the leather, drove out of the throng.

The rest of the world may have gone in for these here newfangled motor cars. But Elmira, Ontario, sticks to buggies.

Chicago big shots may fly in eight hours to Los Angeles to get away from it all. But the big shots of Elmira, Ontario, find a nice, light pacer, in front of a smooth-going rig, fast enough to keep up with the times.

Before I give you a picture of Elmira’s monthly fair, held on a Monday, with the streets of the little town thronged with men, its open squares jammed with auctions, the hum of country gossip, the drone of auctioneers’ voices, I would like to tell about a conversation I had with an old friend. It shows the humor, the kindliness, of Elmira and its surrounding country of beautifully kept farms. Farms more beautifully kept even than the millionaire farms along the Lake Shore road or up Bayview. In fact, the education of a student of agriculture is not complete until he has driven the country roads out from Elmira and seen these beautiful acres dressed like a merchant’s show window, with never an implement left rusting in any fence corner and no litter or old planks flung about the barnyard, nor ever a fence run down, and geraniums, white, pink and scarlet, in all the sweet windows.

Biggest Buggy Market

As I stood watching the monthly fair of Elmira, with the black-hatted Mennonite men in large numbers, with their calm faces and coats of black so incredibly old that they were a sage green across the shoulders, a Mennonite stepped up and spoke to me. Three years ago I had the pleasure of writing something about the Mennonites of Elmira district, and all of what I said was kindly meant. But I learned afterwards that some Mennonites did not take kindly to being written up at all, regardless of how well we spoke of them.

“So,” said this serene-eyed man in the wide hat, “you’re the gentleman who wrote up the Mennonites in the paper?”

“Yes; did you read it?” I asked.

“I never read newspapers,” said the Mennonite, reprovingly. But I heard what was in the article.”

“Ah,” I said, “then you do not think it as wicked to think evil as to do evil?”

“Yes, I do,” said he.

“Then it is not against your principles to hear what is in the papers, but it is against your principles to read what is in them?” I stabbed.

“Very good,” laughed the gentle man, “then I did not even hear what was in the papers!”

So I asked if these two strapping boys behind him were his sons. They were. We talked, the boys speechless and shy, murmuring yes or no.

“This one,” I said, “is going to be very big, eh?”

“Ah, yes,” sighed the Mennonite. “I am terribly afraid he will be too big to inherit my coat.”

And with this we laughed, for the coat on the father was so antique, its rusty green was fading to gray and it had the cut of a mid-Victorian cab driver’s coat.

So here in the face of all change, of wars and revolutions, of the collapsing of one civilization and the colossal uprising of others, remains a race of men as simple, as filled with plain toil and happiness as if a hundred years had stood still in their part of the world. Good-humored, sincere, devoted, they probably have in their possession more plain wealth than any other community in America. More acres free of debt. More cash in the bank. More peace in their souls.

And let the rest of the world abandon their town fairs, they keep theirs agoing.

George Class of Elmira is the senior auctioneer and former Mayor Frickey of Waterloo shares the auction honors. The fair is held once a month, generally on the second Monday, year in, year out. It dwindles a little in the summer, but with September the streets are thronged again every fair day through the winter, sees a great jam from nine a.m. until well past noon. The town merchants take care that no new goods are sold at the fair in competition with their stores. That is an understanding dating back to the earliest days.

But horses, buggies, farm implements of every sort and age, household furniture of all conceivable kinds, in fact anything that is secondhand or homemade, is traded and sold.

“Little pigs,” said William Auman, a cattle-buyer who has lived his life in Elmira, “are the chief commodity now and always have been. Hundreds of young porkers are brought here every fair day and mostly bought and sold amongst the farmers themselves. Very few dealers are here. Possibly a dozen horses will be auctioned or traded each fair day. Buggies sell from $10 to $40. I suppose this is the largest buggy market in America to-day.”

Eye-Compelling Tidiness

This is due to the fact that the Mennonites faithfully hold to their horses and rigs, religiously denying themselves such luxuries as cars. I saw twenty-five buggies for sale the day I was there. I saw a democrat in first-class condition sell for $22.20. I saw an eight-year-old driving mare sell for $90 and a single farm horse at $123.50.

But while the auction drones on from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. a highly active private treaty goes on all over the place. There are three main market stands, one opposite the public library, where the pigs, cows and horses are sold, and another large open space at the bus terminal, where the farmers’ driving sheds are. Here the household effects, buggies and implements are sold.

These farmers of the Elmira district are very thrifty of everything, including their time. As I said before, their farms fairly crackle with neatness and tidiness. But what time they have left over they employ in making all kinds of wooden ware for farm use. Axe handles, double trees and yokes and tongues for heavy wagons.

“In the winter,” explained a small, sturdy Mennonite of at least seventy years, “I have not much to do, so I make tongues and double trees and sell them here to my neighbors.”

Between the two large spaces jammed with mobs of farmers watching the auctions there are sundry small stalls where country cheese is sold. These people of German descent know how to make cheese, the holey country style of cheese, and stacks of it in doorways are cut into huge gobbets and sold to other farmers, who prefer the country cheese to all the factory products.

The display of household effects is extraordinary, I happen to know that in these lovely farm homes of the Elmira country is hidden some of the loveliest walnut furniture of simple pioneer design – the kind Toronto ladies would go silly over – but there is rarely if ever a stick of such furniture gets on to the open auction of the town. The people prize it more than connoisseurs. They prize it as the designers, the makers and the users of it.

From light oak bedroom sets, all manner of tables and chairs, some rickety, some decidedly good, down to funny looking mid-Victorian sewing machines, incredible pumps, odds and ends of kitchen and barnyard furniture, the display is truly what it is supposed to be, and that is, a means of disposing of whatever is no longer of any use. For example, the day I was there, the carpenter tools of an elderly farmer who had just retired to live in Elmira was one of the items of auction. Everybody for miles around knew this old farmer had been a first-class carpenter, and the disposal of his tools attracted every thrifty man in three townships. I asked about the origin of an entire bedroom suite. The girl whose room this suite adorned in a farmhouse had recently married, and as her young husband took her into a completely furnished home, her parents felt no further need of the furniture. That’s the spirit of the Elmira town fair. If a thing is no longer needed sell it, trade it. It may account for the eye-compelling tidiness of every farm you see for miles around Elmira. Thrift has got rid of every stick, every item that is no longer needed. Surely the strangest items auctioned the day I was there was a veranda pillar. Just an old, faded wooden column or pillar off a farm house porch. It seems the mate to this one had got rotten with age and water, and the owner had made two new matching pillars. This one, which some, perhaps many men, would have chucked out in the barnyard, was put up for sale. It sold for fifty cents.

“What are you going to do with it?” I asked the wide-hatted farmer who bought it.

“Use it to make an arch over my well,” said he.

The man who sold it got the fifty cents.

“And what will you do with the fifty cents?” I asked him.

“Put it on a young pig,” he smiled.

They Don’t Like To Borrow

Beds by the dozen, little beds, big beds, whole harnesses and bits of harness, a box of live geese, chains, great big logging chains, maple syrup pails, whole rolls of second-hand wire fencing…

“Have you had that chain long?” I asked the farmer who sold the logging chain.

“Just since November,” he said. “I got it here, at the fair. I needed a chain to haul a few logs out of my woodlot. Now I’m through with the chain, and I’ll sell it for maybe a few cents less than I paid for it. I didn’t borrow it. It was mine for the time I wanted it. Now somebody else will want it. I guess that chain has been owned by a good many men. Hauled a good many logs out of the woodlots in this part of the country.”

They don’t like to borrow.

The second-hand wire fencing was in perfect condition. It was as neatly rolled as a new roll. The farmer who was selling it had used it for five years to fence off a small field. It was no longer wanted. Instead of leaving it there to die, he took it down, rolled it up and brought it to the town fair for some other farmer who was just looking for that very thing.

I saw at least twenty men carrying small bits of leather harness over their arms, little straps and gadgets whose names I would never know. But wholly necessary to a horse pulling a plow.

“More than once,” said a farmer who was carrying a pair of those eye blinkers, “I have assembled a whole set of good harness from three or four old sets offered here for sale at the fair. A piece off one. A piece off another. And there I had a full set of harness for a song.”

The strangest thing at the Elmira town fair is the absence of women. Not ten of the bonneted and sombrely dressed Mennonite women were to be seen amongst the four hundred men. And they were entirely on the outskirts of the show. None of the townspeople or Elmira ladies seemed to be present at all.

“It is a men’s show,” said Postmaster O. Weichel of Elmira. “And always has been. No home baking or sausages or that sort of thing. It is a men’s fair, and besides being an institution for trade and commerce, it is a mighty important social institution. the men gathering to talk and gossip about country affairs, they look forward to it with the greatest eagerness. They wouldn’t do without the town fair for anything.”

“Is it as big as it used to be?” I asked.

“Quite as big,” said Mr. Weichel. “Changed a little in character. In early days, it had a certain holiday quality; there used to be fights amongst the men, and factions met here to settle matters after the fair in the time-honored fashion. They used to parade their horses up and down the town streets, showing off their paces.”

Mr. Aumon, the cattle buyer, said it was best described as a “little pig market” because, unquestionably, the largest turnover each fair day was in young pigs.

And in crates behind wagons and in buggies and on cars, the little pigs come to market at Elmira. Clean, tidy little pink pigs, some of them no bigger than bedroom slipper and some of them so big and ferocious they filled a whole cart to themselves.

But it is of the little pigs I would warn you. Their screams are so arousing. Their pinky plumpness is so appealing. And if you are a city person that goes to Elmira town fair, be careful of those baby pigs. They’ll get you. You’ll buy one.

And then where are you?


Editor’s Notes: Elmira is still home to a large population of Old Order Mennonites. Note that in 1935, they would not seem as old-fashioned as they do today.

Juniper Junction – 04/21/48

April 21, 1948

No Crowing Before 7 A.M.

I went to the nests; and in the third one found an egg!

Any person with sense enough to come in out of the rain could run a chicken farm. That’s what they thought

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, April 19, 1941

“You and I lead a risky existence,” declared Jimmie Frise.

“Our dangerous days are over, Jim,” I said comfortably.

“I don’t mean risky in the sense of bullets and bombs and stuff,” said Jim. “But suppose this war goes on until nobody wants to look at cartoons any more.”

“You could always eke out an existence drawing war maps,” I submitted. “There is always room for artists there. War maps change every few days.”

“What about you?” inquired Jim. “Suppose this war goes on and on until you haven’t the heart to write any more nonsense.”

“I could peddle articles about how terrible the next war is going to be,” I stated. “Lots of men made a living predicting this war. Don’t you remember? They wrote sensational articles all about how the skies would be filled with bombers and whole cities blown to atoms. And how armies would fight only in tanks. And ships would be sunk from the air.”

“Now that I remember,” cried Jim, “they did a pretty good job of forecasting just what this war would be like.”

“Yep,” I said, “and they made enough to live on and see their predictions come true. It must be queer to be a London or a Berlin journalist and sit in your deep dugout, thumbing over your scrap book and studying all the big feature articles you wrote in 1930, with terrific illustrations of bombers blasting cities and tanks roaring over prostrate civilians…”

“We got so sick of those predictions,” interrupted Jim. “that we went into reverse. Instead of preparing us for the disaster, those articles just drove us to bury our heads in the sand. Maybe the government won’t let you peddle articles like that after this war. Maybe that will be defined as a form of indirect treason.”

“I’ll find something to write,” I assured him.

“Sometimes,” sighed Jimmie, “I get so weary of trying to find anything amusing in this sad world.”

“Laugh, clown, laugh,” I asserted. “It’s the old, old story. Jim. We who were framed by providence to be fools and clowns have to keep on, come hell or high water. The show must go on.”

Going Chicken Ranching

“I wish we had some side line,” muttered Jim.

“Such as?” I demanded.

“We have reached the age,” proposed Jim, “when we should look ahead to retiring. Naturally, we have been much too foolish to save any money. You can’t be a professional fool and a private wise guy at the same time.”

“Chicken ranching,” I submitted.

“That’s not so foolish,” ejaculated Jimmie, sitting up sharply. “I’ve often thought of it. But it is so common a way of escaping from the world, so many people have retired to chicken farming, that I was afraid you’d laugh at me if I suggested it.”

“If others have found an escape from the woes of this world by going chicken ranching,” I offered, “it probably indicates there is merits in the idea.”

“I know people,” said Jim. “who have decided to retire; who quit work and sold their homes in the city and went out and bought little places in the market garden belt; and who inside of two years were back in the city, cleaned to the bone and living on their relations.”

“They probably didn’t understand chickens,” I informed him. “But I should think anybody with enough sense to come in out of the rain could make a go of chickens. Why, out in the towns and villages, nearly everybody has a hen house at the foot of their back yard.”

“Chicken ranching is different,” said Jim. “Keeping a few chickens is one thing. Making a business of them is another.”

“Listen,” I said. “You were born and raised on the farm. You were 18 before you decided to come to the city and be a cartoonist. Surely there is enough of the farmer left in you to make a go of a chicken ranch.”

“I suppose if we went into chicken raising,” said Jim, “you’d leave all the hard work to me on those grounds?”

“I’d be the salesman, Jim,” I explained. “You be the production manager. I’ve got some swell ideas already. For instance: You know those white signs they have along the highways – ‘Cattle Crossing, 300 feet ahead’.”

“Yes,” said Jim, alertly.

“Well, sir, three hundred feet on either side of our little chicken ranch,” I said triumphantly, “I would have signs exactly the same only reading – ‘Chicken Crossing, 300 feet ahead.”

“Oh, boy,” said Jim.

“Can’t you just see them?” I cried. “And can you imagine the effect on the traffic going by? Why, hundreds of cars would stop, just for a laugh. And they’d come into our little place and buy our eggs and poultry. I could set up a little sort of glass shop in the front yard, with refrigerators and things, modern and white…”

Secret of Success

“I believe you’ve got something there,” exclaimed Jim. “Chicken Crossing, 300 feet ahead. Boy, that would stop them. The secret of success in any business is a new idea.”

“You said it, Jim.” I said enthusiastically. “Why maybe we’ve been wasting our lives in this newspaper business. I bet if we’d started in some business like chicken ranching 30 years ago, we’d be rich old geezers right now.”

Jim sat thinking in eager silence, his eyes dancing with the mental pictures he was seeing.

“Listen,” he said excitedly. “You know that little kennel run you have at the foot of your garden?”

“Yes,” I said, doubtfully.

“You don’t use it for anything but storing the lawnmower and the garden furniture,” said Jim. “It was built by some former tenant who kept pets of some kind…”

“Rabbits or pheasants,” I admitted.

“Why can’t we do a little preliminary experimenting,” demanded Jim. “I’d go in with you to get a few chickens. There is no use putting this idea off, the way we do all our other inspirations. Let’s start chicken raising right now. In a small way…”

“Not in the city, Jim,” I protested. “It’s against the law, for one thing.”

“Is it?” questioned Jim shrewdly. “Let’s find out.”

And while I sat filled with misgivings, Jimmie telephoned the city hall, and got the sanitation section in the department of public health and had a long chat with the gentleman there.

“See?” cried Jim, hanging up. “It is not illegal. There are no restrictions whatever against keeping chickens in the city.”

“It doesn’t sound possible, Jim,” I protested. “They’ve by-lawed everything else in the world.”

“The man said, definitely.” declared Jimmie, “that there were no restrictions. It was wholly a question of the neighbors. If the neighbors objected, then we could be summoned through the department of health.”

“It doesn’t sound natural, Jim,” I cautioned. “It doesn’t sound like Toronto.”

A Perfect Example

“The man said,” assured Jim, “that the grounds on which neighbors usually complained was that the chickens were unsanitary, or they were kept too near other people’s premises, or they created a nuisance by escaping into other people’s gardens. Or the rooster crowed too early in the morning … any of these reasons could be advanced by the neighbors and you could be forced to quit keeping chickens.”

“What is too early for a rooster to crow?” I inquired narrowly.

“The gentleman said,” advised Jim, “that in the court, it was usually the opinion of the bench that a rooster should not be permitted to crow before seven a.m. After that, it is all right.”

“What a perfect example,” I pronounced, “of pure democracy. There is no law regarding chickens. But if the neighbors object, you’re out. I didn’t think there was such a case of pure democracy left anywhere on earth. And we find it right here in Toronto.”

“It shows you the value,” declared Jim, “of keeping in with your neighbors. If you are the type that is eternally quarreling with you next door neighbors, objecting to their children, to their dogs, to their shaking mops out windows and so forth, then it is hopeless to try to keep chickens. But if you love your neighbors and they love you, then you have earned not the right but the privilege of keeping chickens. One sour neighbor, and you’re out!”

“Jim” I confessed, “not as an experiment in chickens, but as an experiment in citizenship, I am almost persuaded to agree to your proposition. How many chickens would we buy?”

“Six,” said Jim, after a moment’s calculation. “Five hens and a rooster. I’ll buy three, you buy three.”

“I’ll buy the rooster,” I said.

“And we’ll divide the cost of buying chicken feed,” said Jim, “and we’ll divide the eggs. Oh, boy, oh, boy, do I ever love a pure fresh egg, still warm from the nest, poached and sitting on top of a slice of lovely golden toast…”

“Shirred eggs for me,” I cut in. “Take a little dish and butter it. Break two lovely fresh eggs and put in a hot oven. Bake them until they are just set. Don’t let them bake too long…”

So we went down to the Market that very afternoon, and amidst a glorious music of roosters crowing and hens cackling and squawking that resounded in the big empty market like a symphony rehearsal in an empty auditorium, we walked up and down aisles of cages full of poultry and sought the advice of the white coated lads in charge.

But in the company of the chickens, Jimmie’s latent memories of the farm began to waken, and he began to show an increasing knowledge of the chicken world. The big fluffy Plymouth Rocks intrigued me: but Jim said eggs were our chief interest and he plumped for the White Leghorn. The young fellow who had us in tow praised the Rhode Island Red. He said he had a strain of them that were simply prodigious at eggs. They couldn’t be pried off the nest. He suspected most of them of laying two eggs a day.

Buying White Leghorns

So we ended up by buying a White Leghorn rooster and a combination of White Leghorns and Rhode Island Reds. The idea being that we could experiment with them and so decide what to raise when the great day came for us to go ranching. The young fellow put them in sacks and we took them home in Jim’s car.

In no time at all, we had the pet house at the foot of my garden in shape for the chickens. All we had to do was move out the swing and the lawnmower and some canvas chairs, patch a couple of holes in the wire netting where some previous tenant had kept some sort of pets; and there we were. A large gathering of children of the neighborhood and both our families were present at the launching of the chickens from the sacks.

They took at once to their new quarters. Each ran about four steps out of the sack before starting to peck. And the big rooster got up on the door edge and let go such a trumpet that windows for half a block in both directions were opened and heads came popping out.

“We’ll have to keep that rooster locked up until seven a.m.,” said Jimmie.

“By the way,” I inquired, “how will we arrange about whose turn it will be to come and let them out each morning? You take one week and I’ll take the next?”

We went up to the Junction and found the last flour and feed store in the district. We bought a 20-pound bag of feed and a water trough and half a dozen china eggs to put in the nests. And before dark, we had the whole enterprise ship shape. Jim built three box nests and I nailed up two perches inside the little house. From a new house we saw under construction on our way to the flour and feed, we got a big carton full of sawdust and shavings. We went to bed that night in the knowledge of something well done and a new era dawning in our lives.

I was waked by sounds in my garden. And there was Jimmie in his old clothes at the chicken house, throwing feed. I dressed hastily and joined him. He lives only five doors south but he had promised to set his alarm clock for seven. It was only ten to seven.

However, I didn’t raise any quarrel. I examined the nests. There were only the china eggs. I renewed the water in the can.

“Mmmff,” said Jim, warmly. “It already smells chickeny.”

We watched them for about an hour and then had to go and get ready for the office. We left the office early and spent the evening around the birds, making friends with them and indicating in our dumb way that they were welcome in all respects and that we would not be distressed if they laid an egg.

Up At Six-Thirty

The next morning, I set my clock for 6.30 a.m. and caught Jimmie just as he came down the side drive. We entered together. I opened the door. Jim grabbed the feed bag and started throwing the feed. I went to the nests; and in the third one found an egg!

It was still warm. And Jimmie and I, after the excitement had died down and the rooster had been chased into silence from his perch on the door, handed it to each other several times while we praised its beauty of form, its transparency, its delicate shell … Then we tossed and Jim won it for breakfast. However, I claimed the right to borrow it long enough to take it inside and wake each member of my family and show it to them.

We latched the door and left repeated instructions to our family as to anybody disturbing the fowls during our absence, and we got back home around 5 p.m.

There were no more eggs. This distressed me, because I was figuring on a shirred egg for supper. But we broomed out the house and renewed the water and Jim made some changes in the sawdust and shavings in the nests. And it was about seven p.m., after a hasty supper, that Jimmie and I were sitting inside the chicken run watching the birds slowly going to bed when the party of neighbors came in the drive. They were a deputation. There were seven gentlemen and one lady. Some of them came from as far as ten doors north.

“Aha,” I said, when I saw their formal expressions, “democracy, huh?”

The spokesman was a man I have often lent my lawnmower to. I have even loaned him a lawn mower that I had borrowed. His children play with mine without ever a rift.

He explained that a wholly spontaneous delegation had been formed, by telephone. There were in the neighborhood several sick people. There was one new-born baby, whose parents got little sleep anyway. That the rooster crowed all day long. But even without the rooster, the hens made a slow, drawling, complaining sound that was most irritating.

“The weather has been very still,” I pleaded. “On ordinary days, you would not notice …”

But he said he had requested to be permitted to be the spokesman as he was an old friend of mine and he wanted to keep the delegation on the pleasantest footing possible.

“We’ve only had one egg,” I pleaded.

However, as the other members of the delegation began to swell up and get red, especially the one lady, we agreed to do something about the matter. The spokesman herded the delegation out before it burst.

So we sat down and watched the last of the fowls retire into the house. It was the rooster. With soft, masculine chuckles and mutters, he reassured his five ladies that all was well and he was coming in from his sentry duty.

I felt something tiny crawling on the back of my neck. I pursued it. It eluded me. I felt something on my wrist. I felt two things on the back of my neck, in the short hair.

“Jim,” I said, bending over, “can you see anything on the back of my neck there?”

“You should keep out of the chicken house,” said Jim. “We’ll have to get some fine sand so they can dust themselves.”

“Is it …?” I inquired.

“Yep,” said Jim.

And the following morning, there being still no more eggs in the nests, I held the bag and Jimmie cornered the birds and we took them down to the market and sold them back to the man for $1 less than we paid.

Which is cheap experience.


Editor’s Notes: Keeping chickens in Toronto was banned in 1983. However, starting in 2018, a pilot project is under ways to allow chickens in select wards.

Fake eggs are placed in nests to encourage chickens to lay in a particular spot. This is were the term “nest egg” comes from, as it was felt that it would encourage more eggs, and therefore bigger profits.

Greg was probably referring to mites or lice being on him, which can come from chicken farming.

Topsy Turvy

April 11, 1931

These are some illustrations by Jim for a story by Caesar Smith (a regular contributor to the Star Weekly in the late 1920s and early 1930s) about spring cleaning and decorating.

April 11, 1931

“O Pshaw!”

April 13, 1929

They are trying to sniff out a fugitive in the woods.

A Heap of Trouble

So with a grinding and a roaring, the big revolving drum started to pour concrete like a meat mincer squishing out hamburger.

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, April 14, 1945.

“Just look,” complained Jimmie Frise, “at that side drive!”

“Cement’s pretty well shot,” I admitted.

“Why, it hasn’t been down more than 10 to 12 years, cried Jim. “And look at it. It looks as if a V-bomb had hit it.”

“Well, it was pretty well shot last season,” I reminded him. And the year before that, if I remember right, you were complaining about it having gone to pieces.”

“Cement ought to last more than 10 years,” asserted Jim.

“Not if you let the frost get under it,” I assured him. “When you notice the first crack in your cement side drive you should have it patched right away. If not, then the frost heaves it and what you’ve got, after all, is a sort of V-bomb underneath.”

“It’s positively dangerous,” said Jimmie. “Last night I was backing the car out. The back wheel tilted one of those hunks of cement. Its jagged corner caught under the differential. If I hadn’t been quick I’d have torn the gizzard out of my car.”

“Well, you ought to have it relaid right away,” I agreed.

“Relaid?” snorted Jim. “And how would I have it relaid? I called up one of the concrete firms and they said I might have a chance about next August. Unless some priority job turned up. Then it might be never. In fact, they couldn’t give me a date.”

“Then the least you can do,” I submitted, is remove the worst of those big jagged chunks and put a few wheelbarrow loads of cinders down.”

“It burns me up,” grated Jim, “the way things go to pieces like this. What’s the world coming to? A concrete job like that should last a lifetime.”

“You’ve got the usual property complex, Jim,” I pointed out. “Nothing should last a lifetime. When you build a new house you should realize that it is going to be a race between you and the house to see which will be old and worn out first. In your youthful prime you are making money. So you do a little careful figuring and decide you will build a house. It costs you, say, $10,000. In 20 years it is old-fashioned, its plumbing is all corroded and crusted. So is yours. It is in a neighborhood no longer fashionable. A lot of strangers have moved in. It is worth about $5,000 now. And you’ve gone down in value, too.”

“In other countries,” declared Jim, “property doesn’t fall to pieces like this. In England, for instance. The stately homes of England. Why, some of those gracious old country houses of England are two and three centuries old.”

“Aha,” I cried. “The outer walls, maybe. The foundations and outer walls of the main section of the house. But if those stately homes of England haven’t been brought up to date with the past few years they are hardly fit to live in. Musty, smelly, fungussy old dumps. I’ve lived in dozens of them the past five years. And our boys have been billetted in them all over Britain. They’ll tell you what stately old homes they are.”

“That’s not my impression,” protested Jimmie.

Not the Original

“Look,” I said, “why were so many of those stately homes handed over to the troops as billets this past five years? Because either they were untenanted or the owners couldn’t afford, these past 10 or 15 hard-time years, to do the necessary repairs. Those old country houses have to be entirely renovated each new generation. The climate of England is easier on stone and brick than ours. They don’t have frost and fierce summer suns to contend with. So the outside shell survives century or two. Sometimes longer. But the inside has to be remodeled every few years. If it isn’t, then it is smelly and musty and fungussy and decayed. Don’t make the mistake that all those ancient buildings that are said to date back to Queen Elizabeth or Charles the Second are just the way they were in those days. What they mean is, the building, whether a church or a mansion or a famous public edifice, has survived as an institution since the days of Queen Elizabeth or Charles the Second. Generally, you will find the building was entirely reconstructed – in strict accordance with the original! – about 1830 or 1890.”

“Aw,” said Jim.

“I was billetted,” I informed him, “in several really old stately homes the past couple of years. And if they dated back any further than 1860 they stunk.”

“You have no soul,” said Jim. “You have no poetry in your make-up.”

“Property,” I assured him, “has to be kept up, whether it is St. Peter’s in Rome or the Buck of Dukingham’s old family estate or your side drive.”

“Why, I remember travelling through England, in the last war, and seeing those lovely old mansions nestled in their ancient beeches and oaks,” said Jim, tenderly.

“Those houses,” I assured him, “on closer inspection, would turn out to be exactly like the old mansions on Jarvis St. in Toronto, dating back to about 1880. The reason our old mansions in Toronto have fallen on evil times is that the district became unfashionable. The rich families moved out farther into the suburbs.”

“Or lost their money,” suggested Jim.

“Or had to divide it,” I submitted, “between too many children for any one of them to keep up the big family mansion. So the old mansions of Toronto are let go to decay. But in England, for obvious reasons, the rich men did not build their mansions in towns and cities. Before the industrial revolution, which was only 150 or so years ago, towns and cities were merely the congregating places of the poor, the landless and the hand-workers. Land was the only wealth. There were no factories. So the wealthy man lived right amid his wealth – his land.”

“No factories?” inquired Jim.

“No factories at all,” I assured him. “Well, maybe there would be a sail factory down near the docks. Or possibly some successful master mason would employ a lot of men in his stone yard, or a master shoemaker might employ 100 shoemakers under one roof. But since there was no power of any kind, except hand power, why, it was cheaper and more practical for the employer to let the workers work in their homes. Or hovels.”

“But the swells,” said Jim, “the really rich, were the land owners. And they lived on their estates. Distributed all over Britain.”

“That’s the picture,” I agreed. “And that’s how you have all those mansions scattered all over England. But now that land is no longer wealth, but a liability, except to the individual man who works it as a farmer, and since riches nowadays is in owning factories or being a broker or a business man in a city, why, property has changed its character, too. No more mansions.”

“Besides,” contributed Jim. “nobody stays home any more. It is just a place to sleep.”

“And keep your extra clothes,” I added. “And garage your car.”

“In which case,” stated Jimmie indignantly, “the modern side drive ought to be made of better concrete than this.”

Jim’s drive was, in fact, a mess. From away back by the garage right out to the street there was hardly a square yard of concrete that had not collapsed. There were large holes. There were patches of broken concrete with corners sticking up like the dragon’s teeth of the Siegfried Line. The past winter, while not noted for deep frost, had soaked an awful lot of snow into the ground. And that had finished what a few years’ frosts had started.

“Jim,” I suggested, “to lay a new drive here, with modern methods, should be a cinch. Even you and I could do it.”

“Mmmmm,” said Jim.

“Nowadays,” I explained, “these ready’ mix concrete trucks, with their big drums revolving as they drive through the streets, would simply back into your side drive, dump a load of concrete all ready mixed. With a wheelbarrow and a couple of rakes we could spread it out. And presto!”

“Say,” said Jimmie.

A Matter of Initiative

“The modern citizen,” I asserted, “doesn’t need to be half as dependent as he thinks he is. We are all still muddling along in the age of the stately homes of England, when, as a matter of fact, if we took advantage of the modern inventions already in use all around us, we could be really mid-20th century.”

“I’ve got a wheelbarrow,” declared, Jim.

“And I’ll bring down a couple of rakes,” I offered. “And we could rig up a good big plank, with scantling uprights on it for handles. We could pat the stuff down with that. Make it smooth.”

“Say!” said Jimmie eagerly.

“The only thing I’m afraid of,” I remarked, “is that you might need a work priority to get a load of ready-mix concrete.”

But Jim went straight in and telephoned. And no priority was needed. It was a straight case of waiting until Wednesday, as the company’s mixing trucks were all on order up till then. Jim ordered one full load.

So we had Monday and Tuesday evenings to clear the side drive of all the wreckage. Most of the concrete was in chunks that required no extra breaking. A few larger pieces had to be hit a few whacks with the sledgehammer Jim borrowed from the service station up the street. And Jim did the sledge-hammer work while I, with the aid of a pair of ice-tongs, slid the chunks of concrete into the wheelbarrow laid on its side. It was not easy work. But neither was it any harder than the usual gardening projects the average man undertakes at this season of the year. I’ve built several rockeries, in the past 30 years, that cost me far more pain than this. In fact, Tuesday night, seeing us carting the broken concrete back into Jim’s yard, two of the neighbors got ideas and came and offered to cart off several barrow loads for rockeries in their back gardens. Thus, by dark Tuesday, we had all the concrete moved and the under bed of gravel and sand nicely raked.

The load was promised for 8.30 a.m. So Jimmie and I were on the job bright and early to peg down the narrow planks we were going to use as margins or containers of the concrete as we laid it.

We had barely started laying these plank edges when we heard a truck coming noisily and knew it was our big adventure.

“Where’ll you have it?” inquired the driver heartily.

“I think,” Jim suggested, “we ought to have him dump it right there at the street end of the drive, and we will start laying back in at the garage. It will mean more carting with the wheelbarrow. But we can see what we are doing better.”

“Correct,” I agreed.

So with a grinding and a roaring, the big revolving drum started to pour concrete like a meat mincer squishing out hamburger. It went on and on as an imposing pile grew before our astonished eyes.

And away went the driver.

There, as simple as ordering a ton of coal or a load of manure, was the material for two simple citizens to toy with, saving scores of dollars in man-hours, giving healthful spring exercise and permitting free play to individual initiative, free enterprise and, above all, craftsmanship.

We stood and admired the pile. It was soggy. And it settled slightly. Even as we watched. And it certainly was big.

“There’s enough there,” declared Jim, “to lay a real, lifetime pavement.”

Well, first we had to lay and peg down the wooden planks for the edges of the new pavement, and that took an hour. And to get the planks to stand on their edges, it was necessary to dig slight trenches or troughs in which the planks could stand upright.

“How long,” inquired Jim, “do you suppose that stuff will stay soft?”

“Don’t worry,” I reassured him. “You know how long you have to keep off fresh cement. We’ve got all day.”

So we laid the planks steady and true and pegged them down. And while we were at it we laid all the planks for the whole job. A couple of hours.

“I don’t like that warm wind blowing,” said Jim, anxiously examining the free grayish-yellow heap at the mouth of his side drive.

“Come on, brother,” I said, picking up the shovel. “Now for the first barrow.”

Wet concrete weighs more than dry concrete. And dry concrete weighs plenty.

Jim started to shove the barrow up the drive. But its wheel sank deep in the gravel and sand.

“We’ll have to have a plank walk to run the barrow on,” said Jim hurriedly.

So we got in the car and drove over to the lumber yard, a few blocks east, and got five long, cheap planks. With these, carried home on the car top, we laid a path for the barrow. Another hour or so.

“Hey!” said Jim as he picked up the barrow. “This stuff is getting stiff!”

It was not quite as pulpy as I expected.

“Take it up to the garage,” I ordered, “and we’ll flatten her out.”

Jim shoved the barrow up the planks very wobbly and dumped it in front of the garage.

It fell out heavily, and a lot stuck to the bottom of the barrow. I scraped this out with the shovel, and we set to work hurriedly to spread the big blob out. It did not spread very willingly. It broke into cakes and the cakes spread rather granularly

“I don’t like this,” puffed Jim, slapping with the shovel.

“Get another barrow load, it’ll be wetter,” I commanded, and we’ll sort of blend it.”

Jim went down to the front of the drive and got another barrow load.

“It seems a little looser,” he panted, as he arrived. “But I don’t think we have much time to waste.”

A Horrible Sight

The fresh barrow load, while looser than the first, which had been standing all the time we were over at the lumber yard, did not blend very easily with the first load. In fact, the first square yard of concrete in front of the garage doors was rather a horrible sight.

We patted it with shovels. We got our plank with upright handles nailed on it, and spanked it. We smoothed it. We laid the plank down on the concrete and jumped up and down on it.

But it still looked warty.

“Pour water on the pile,” I suggested, a little excited.

But the first pailful seemed to just run off.

“Well, all right,” snapped Jim. “Don’t just stand there? Let’s get it spread first. Then we can smooth it later.”

“But that would only…” I began.

“Don’t argue!” shouted Jim, charging away with the wheelbarrow.

So we shoveled and wheelbarrowed and spread and shoveled and wheelbarrowed and spread. A side drive is a much larger area, in square yards, than you would think, backing a car out of it.

When we had got about 15 feet done out from the garage doors we knew we were beaten. If we delayed to flatten it, the outside of the main pile, down at the front end of the side drive, grew stiffer and more granular and harder to handle. I tried stirring it while Jim ran in and attempted to borrow a couple of men from the service station; from the grocer; the butcher and the drug store. He even telephoned some of our friends downtown at the office.

But my stirring was as useless as Jim’s telephone calls. It only let the air into the pile and dried it quicker.

“Good heavens,” gasped Jimmie, running out of the house. There will be that mountain of solid concrete blocking my drive…”

“Let’s spread it, any old way,” I replied.

So we worked like mad, trying to reduce the Vesuvius out by the sidewalk. In random humps, lumps, mounds, we laid the stuff another 15 feet down the drive,

But the sight of that awful pathway only caused us to abandon the main pile in desperate efforts to flatten down the work already done. We could reduce it in one spot, but the immediately adjoining square foot would resist, bulging up

So by the time the neighbors were arriving home for supper, half the pile stood a slowly congealing and immovable barricade while the other half was scattered in a ghastly, lumpy, misshapen roadway half-way down from the garage.

And Jim’s car inside.

Today, if you hear what sounds like machine-guns, it will be only the gang of concrete workers Jim got on compassionate grounds, breaking down the barricade and the abortive pavement.

They say they’ll have the driveway done before dark.


Editor’s Notes: V-bombs were German V-1 flying bombs, an early form of cruise missiles. They had short range so were used against Britain between June and October 1944. They were still used against the Allies until the end of the war, but with different targets like Antwerp.

Dragon’s teeth were a form of fortification to block access by tanks and other vehicles.

Greg was worried that they would need a “work priority” to get the concrete. This was still during World War Two, so all sorts of things were rationed, and if concrete was on the list, they would have to apply to the government in order to obtain some. When writing of his time billeted in English estates, he is referring to his time as a war correspondent.

Cannibal City

All big cities are cannibalistic, absorbing what were once independent settlements. Toronto, for instance, includes within its boundaries such almost forgotten places as Chester, Macaulay Town and Leslieville.

By Gregory Clark, April 8, 1933

A big city grows by eating villages.

What gives Toronto that fine big corporation is the fact that in its time It has been cannibal and has engulfed no fewer than fifteen villages.

Not suburbs, mind you. But distinct and separate villages, an hour’s drive away (by buggy) from the city, with their own post-offices, often with their own town halls like Parkdale and Yorkville. And always with their pride.

There is no doubt that Seaton Village in its time had as fine a contempt for Toronto as Hamilton has now, or Newmarket. There may have been people in Seaton Village who thought the day might come when the thriving settlement of Seaton Village might Annex the struggling town of Toronto.

But Seaton Village was swallowed by Toronto. Seaton Village has become the exact population centre of the city of Toronto. Seaton Village is the corner of Bloor and Bathurst.

You do not need a battered old history book or a Baedecker’s Guide to Toronto to find these old villages that have been consumed but not yet digested by the big city. There are streets in Toronto that are village streets. To the very life, there they stand, as they stood almost century ago, and you do not need to half-shut your eyes to feel the illusion. In Yorkville, which is near the corner of Bay and Davenport road; in Dover Court, which is at Bloor and Dovercourt; in Chester, which is the more modern name of a village called Doncaster which stood at the junction of Bloor and Danforth, you will find whole sections of modern streets with quaint small houses of frame and of plaster and some of them of ancient brick, which are for fact village streets. And though they be old they are pretty.

We even found, in our search for the villages Toronto has swallowed, a village pump.

A common pump and a well within the city limits of Toronto. True, it is in Moore Park and down ravine and up a hill. And true, also, that owing to the curious location of this house within the city limits of the proud city of Toronto, they cannot avail themselves of the city’s water supply and must use the old-fashioned well. But there it is, a pump within the city limits, make of it what you like. O Hamilton and O Newmarket.

It is said that two-thirds of the population of Toronto is made up of people born either in the country or in small villages and towns. And they say that every once in a while these people get homesick for the sight of a village. They grow tired of splendor. They yearn for the sights and the sounds of their youth. For the benefit of these, so that they may go on a Sunday for a walk in a village without ever leaving the city limits, we are writing down the location of these country places that even the clang and clatter of cities cannot make to vanish away.

Our Forgotten Villages

Macaulay Town was not an incorporated village. But it was separate and distinct from the village of York, and if it had stood out for its rights it might have bequeathed its name to Toronto. This might have been the noble city of Macaulay Town, twelfth largest city in America. For Macauley Town was out in the suburbs. It was the corner of King and Yonge streets.

When one night stands of actors came to Toronto, if they ever did, they made jokes about Macaulay Town and got a big hand from the Toronto audience sitting there beneath the shadowy candle-lit stage. But you will see no vestige of Macaulay Town at King and Yonge streets to-day. Heigh-ho! The last assessment on the northeast corner WAS $12,500 foot. A thousand dollars an inch, ladies and gents, for Macaulay Town. Which side of our faces shall we laugh on now?

Yorkville was a thriving village, as independent of Toronto as Woodbridge is today. It grew up around the Red Lion Inn, run by Daniel Tiers for the refreshment of farmers coming to Toronto (away down by the lake) with their wagons, after the long hills. Hog’s Holla Hill was bad enough. But the Blue Hill with its terrible clay – but of course the Blue Hill is no more. Toronto looked after that. It filled the valley up with Yonge street. The Blue Hill is gone. Only the memory of it remains in that pretty ravine below Roxborough street as you sail smoothly down Yonge.

Anyway, around the Red Lion grew up the village of Yorkville and you will see authentic village sections on Bellair, Cumberland, Berryman and Scollard streets. The town hall of Yorkville is the barracks of the York Rangers, right on Yonge street. Even on Yonge street itself, at No. 877, you will see a few remnants of the village that refused to come into Toronto’s maw even when Toronto crept up and surrounded it. But a typhoid epidemic broke out in Yorkville, so Yorkville surrendered.

Parkdale is not merely a district. It was a town. It had its town hall and its separate life. So had West Toronto. In their time these towns were as far away from Toronto as Newmarket and Pickering are to-day.

But it is the little villages that are entirely forgotten that we want to remember. Brockton, out at Dundas and Lansdowne; Leslieville, far out east, and Leslie street now remains; Chester, the new-fangled name for Doncaster, standing far, off from the city at Danforth and Broadview. There were no bridges in those days, and to live in Chester was the same as living in Brampton now.

Bracondale has so utterly vanished that it is almost a Forest Hill Village in the style of its residences to-day. But once upon a time Bracondale was a village on the Albion Road, and it had a race track to which sporty Toronto used to drive in buggies, tally-hos and democrats. It was on Davenport road west of Bathurst.

Deer Park, Davisville and Eglinton had their post offices, and it took a day for a letter to get there from the Toronto post-office. Seaton Village at Bathurst and Bloor, Dover Court at Dovercourt and Bloor, and if you want to see some sweet old houses drive along Northumberland street, Shanley and Salem and Delaware. The village of Dover Court was far out the heavy, sandy highway that a century later bears the name of Mr. Jos. Bloor, brewer, of Yorkville. He supplied the Red Lion.

Carlton was a village at St. Clair and the Weston road. And Davenport lay south of it a mile or two, on the road that wandered westward after it had done its original job of bringing Col. Wells, who fought at Waterloo, from Yonge street westward to his lovely estate on the hill, called Davenport. And long after they called the hill Wells, after him.

These are the villages that were born and lived and died, far out from the little city of Toronto. They had their founders, their first families, their good men and their bad men. Two and three generations of men and women called these villages their home before the slow spreading city brought strangers to swamp and destroy their littleness and their peace.

All they have left behind them are names, names of the villages and names of their worthy people. And a few little houses, gabled and plastered, with the look of old violins about them.

For you understand, Toronto was not intended to be a city. It was just to be a fort and a military supply depot.

Governor Simcoe intended London on the Thames to be the big city of the far west of Canada. Toronto was just to be a fork in the military highways; the main one from Montreal to Detroit, and a branch one from Toronto to Penetang.

But gentry like forts. Around forts gather not merely the officers and men of the fort, but the retired officers of the Duke of Wellington and the Napoleonic wars. And being gentry they like land. Not just a house and lot. But a thousand acres of land. They like to write home to England:

“I have acquired by grants from the Crown one thousand acres of land lying on a beautiful country northward of the fort at York. I have already found, amidst the bush, a hill which will some day make a delightful site for a mansion.”

And mansions started to sprout all over the wide and unexplored country that is now Bloor street and Spadina and Lansdowne and St. Clair. You can have no idea how astonished and indignant the old gentlemen of these fine country mansions would have been if they had been informed that within the time of their grandchildren all these handsome acres would be cut into twenty and thirty foot lots and houses packed on them like cells in a bee-hive, with commerce clattering through streets as hard as a ball room floor.

The Denisons were amongst the noblest of the gentry and their great house was called Dover Court. Far out in the country. A great plantation. Around them grew the village of Dover Court. Today the name remains.

Sherrif Jarvis, after smacking down the rebels, got a large piece of country far to the north and cut off from all possible contamination from the south by a great ravine. He called his fine house Rosedale. No village grew there. But his descendants decided, half a century ago, seeing the swelling city to the south, to subdivide the crown grant into exclusive country Villas for the better-class watchmakers and flour and feed dealers who amassed a little something. So they cut crooked streets and winding lanes and they came to call that suburban retreat Rosedale.

Every Old Family Wanted One

The lieutenant-governor had a summer home far out in the country. He called it Castle Frank.

The Baldwins were great property holders in the olden days and they had a house far north of the fort called Spadina, a pretty Indian word they got from the Indians who used to come and sit around the mansion’s door yard, smoking and thinking. The Baldwins were great people and they dreamed of a broad Avenue some day coming straight up from the lake and from the fort, an avenue lined with splendid trees, up which the military could come in their carriages.

The broad avenue came, but the mansion called Spadina is vanished. No military ride up to it in carriages from the fort. Elizabeth and Phoebe and Maria, Russell, Warren, Bedford are all Baldwin names.

Colonel Wells, who was bursar of King’s College, by Jove, had to have a road cut through the woods to his fine house on the ridge, the fine house called Davenport. The people of Yorkville built houses along that road and they called it Davenport road out of respect to the residence to which it led. Then it went on, as roads do, past Davenport, that big house on the hilltop. And after it went on, out into the country, they called it the Albion road, as it led in time to Albion township, where some fine farmers lived. But the village of Carlton grew up on the Albion road, far to the west (the stockyards are the odor of the sanctity of Carlton) and some people began calling the Albion road Carlton street, while those nearer Yorkville continued to call it the Davenport road. Names take time to digest, in cannibalism.

Colonel Walter O’Hara, one of the squires, served under Wellington and he gave the names Sorauren and Roncesvalles to roads around his country estate after battles in the Peninsular War.

To understand the building of the jig-saw puzzle which is the evolution of a city we must remember that, only a century ago, hundreds of cross roads in this part of Ontario had taverns on them. To-day these cross roads that you pass without a glance are merely four fence corners. Not a stone, not an old plank, remains of a once busy cross roads hamlet, consisting of a tavern, stables and a house or two. For in those days, with no railroads, the settlers had to haul their grain and their cattle or hogs down incredible gumbo roads to the markets along the lake shore. They needed many a resting place, many a place of refreshment for man and beast.

For the fifteen villages that have been the jig-saws out of which the puzzlers have constructed the city of Toronto, in the province of Ontario as a whole, a thousand hamlets have either vanished entirely or are almost nameless cross-road communities of twenty or thirty souls.

Those who were gentry already when they came here, a century ago, or those who had the wit and brains to hope to be gentry some day obtained very large land grants, not of hundred acres, but of a thousand or more acres. They employed men. These workers settled nearby. Immediately other humbler settlers in the neighborhood became in some degree dependent on these gentry who built large mansions, cleared large acreages and built roads out to the highways leading to York. They had visions of a civilization like the Old Country, in which great estates, with splendid houses, would grace the land from end to end. Probably not one of the pioneer landed gentry ever hoped that Toronto would be more than a small, thriving country town.

The railroads came and promptly dealt the death blow to thousands of cross road villages. The farmers no longer had to haul their produce two and three day journeys past a score of wayside taverns and resting places. The day the railroads started the great cleft or abyss between city and country was created.

Summerhill, Woodlawn, Oaklands, Rathnally, Deer Park were the names of big houses set amidst broad plantations in the new colony that was to have for its centre and heart the fort down by the lake; and the little town of Toronto to feed it supplies. It would have been a long journey in a stage conch to the big city of London, where Canada’s parliament buildings were to be. But these gentry of York preferred the sweet country life to raging cities. They preferred a thousand acres, with a lovely old house in the midst, and little villages of workers for their broad farms, conveniently hidden in some gully, out of sight of the big house. From the big houses the beautiful daughters could go walking through the country lanes and pay kindly visits to the farm laborers’ villages nearby. Each family wanted a village.

Fifteen of them got villages.

And the grandchildren of the happy villagers are lords and justices, princes of money and of land.

Out in the country, far from the madding crowd, these grandchildren of the villagers are buying spacious farms and building handsome houses, where they can enjoy the sweet country life.

And their lovely daughters can spin down in scarlet roadsters to the villages, their villages, Pickering, Newmarket, Oakville, to buy cigarettes and a new vanity dab.

And the great city, like water spreading, like oil dripping, slowly spreads and crawls outward, outward, grasping, encircling, engulfing.

Cannibal city.


Editor’s Notes: These sorts of articles are interesting to me, since we can now read an 88 year-old article that describes the previous 100 years. It shows what may have still existed at the time, and can make us reflect on all that existed then which is no more. And he is describing the pre-1998 Toronto too. The whole history of Toronto Amalgamation over the years can be found here. Jim provided the creepy illustration.

Happy Landings

April 4, 1936

“Please, Mister!”

In my hand, I could feel its tiny little spickles of claws tickling.

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, April 6, 1946.

“What’s that?” interrupted Jimmie Frise.

“It’s a cat,” I informed him.

“I thought you disliked cats,” said Jim.

“I certainly do,” I stated. “Of all the creepy, sly, cruel…”

“Well, what’s a cat doing in your house?” demanded Jim.

“It’s not in the house,” I assured him. “It’s out in the side alley.” We listened. A cat meowed.

“That’s in the house!” insisted Jim.

“No, it’s out in the side drive,” I said easily. “No cat would ever get into this house. Nobody’d let it in. Cats know I hate them. I don’t think a cat has ever been in my house.”

“It’s a lifelong prejudice, eh?” said Jim.

“Maybe there’s some psychological mixup in my feeling about cats,” I mused. “But ever since I can remember, I’ve had a creepy feeling about cats. I have no sympathy for them at all. No feeling, except one of deep repugnance. Lots of my friends and relatives have cats. But I’m so uncomfortable with a cat in the room, everybody I know always sends the cat out when I’m expected.”

“What a fussy old pot you are!” scoffed Jim.

“Look,” I demanded, “can I help how I feel about things? Am I responsible for what I feel? This feeling was born in me.”

“Haven’t you any free will?” inquired Jim. “Do you just go through life wearing all the hates and prejudices you were born with? Don’t you feel free to figure things out for yourself?”

“Some things, Jim,” I submitted, “are too deep in people’s natures to be extracted by mere thinking.” The cat meowed again.

“Darn that cat!” I said, getting up nervously, and rapping warningly on the window over the side drive.

“Mmmmm,” observed Jim, “you ARE a cat hater.”

“There may be some psychological basis for it,” I offered. “They tell me that when I was a small baby, we owned a white cat – a beautiful gorgeous snow-white tomcat. It was very fond of me and I was immensely fond of it, so they say. It used to sleep in my carriage, and when I began to walk, I used to carry the cat all over, sort of bent in the belly the way a baby carries a cat; and I used to hold it by the tail and otherwise abuse it. But it never protested. We were inseparable companions, so the story goes. Then one day, somebody poisoned my beautiful white cat. I was only about two years old and I don’t remember any of this. But it seems I found my lovely white cat stiff and dead at the foot of the garden. Nobody knows how long I tried to get the cat to wake up and play. At any rate, I came staggering into the kitchen carrying the stiff white cat in my arms. Doubtless there was a scene! Doubtless my mother screamed. Doubtless they snatched my poor white cat from me…”

“Nobody will ever know,” agreed Jimmie, “what happens to the mind, ideas and prejudices of a little child before he is able to think.”

“I have the feeling,” I declared, that the incident of my white cat has something to do with my lifelong abhorrence of cats. I bet half the blind prejudices in this world are based on some queer, incomprehensible happening in a child’s life, before he had the power to understand.”

The Boogie-Man Stories

“Maybe,” suggested Jimmie, “our hostility to Russians and their hostility to us – maybe our feeling about all foreigners, maybe the queer, insurmountable prejudice we feel against people of another color than ours…”

“Possibly all,” I agreed, “based on boogie-man stories we were told as little, scared children. The Russians tell boogie-man stories. So do we. So do all nations on earth. The quickest way to scare a little child into obedience is to tell him a boogie-man story.”

“To create a real good boogie-man,” I submitted, “you have to make him different in all respects from the people around the neighborhood. Thus, when we grow up, it never occurs to us that, perhaps, our worst enemies are people we see every day. We always suspect a foreigner.”

“The Russians,” agreed Jim,” probably have better boogie-men than any of us. For remember, all Russians 20 to 30 years of age now, were told stories in childhood about the fierce boogie-men all around them. They were hemmed in with boogie-men. It was the terrible British, German, American and French boogie-men who were trying to starve them to death, in 1926 to 1930. Remember? When a little Russian kid cried for more food, how did the mother explain it? Why, she told the little baby about the terrible boogie-men all over the world, who would have no truck or trade with Russia. Our prime minister, in those days Mr. Bennett, said: ‘No truck or trade with Russia.’ So did everybody else. All the world. We were busy, in those days, trying to cure Russia of her wicked ways. So when a Russian mother told the story of Jack and the Bean Stalk to her babies, she didn’t say:

‘Fee, fie, fo, fum,

I smell the blood

of an Englishmun!’

“She had the terrible giant say:

‘Fee, fie, fo, fum,

No truck or trade

With Russia!'”

“Jim,” I submitted, “you may have something there. When we grow up, we never look for boogie-men at home. We always look for them abroad. What we’ve got to do is look for boogie-men both at home and abroad.”

“Or else,” suggested Jim, “stop telling children boogie-men stories.”

“Ah, you can’t do that, Jim,” I sighed.

“You’ve got all the tired mothers of the world against you there. Children are unmanageable little brats. When the mother’s patience has reached its limits, there is nothing for her to do but scare the kids with a boogie-man story. It’s the same with the governing class in all nations. When they can’t manage the people any longer, they tell them boogie-man stories and scare them into behaving.”

“Meee-Ow!” said the cat.

“Hist!” hissed Jim.

“Meee-OW!” said the cat.

“By golly, Jim!” I cried, leaping up. “That cat IS in the house!”

“I told you so,” said Jim.

My hair began to prickle and stand on end.

“Listen!” I commanded. And in a moment in the silence, we both heard the long drawn “meeow” of a cat, right under our feet.

“It’s in the cellar!” I shouted, “Come on, get it out of there!”

We raced down cellar and I switched on the lights. Immediately, I saw what had happened. The coal men had left the cellar window open when they delivered the last ton.

“The window, Jim,” I pointed.

“Where’s the cat?” Jim asked.

“It probably went out when it heard me coming,” I said.

But it hadn’t. From under the work bench came a soft, meek, creepy, pewly-mewly little mew.

“Yahhh!” I shouted, seizing a furnace shovel.

“Mew!” said the cat, in that sweety, Itty-bitty style.

“Scat!” I roared, clattering the shovel on the concrete.

But the cat did not move. “Meeeee-ew?” it said, with that sneaky questioning tone a cat can adopt.

A Whole Batch

Jim was down peering under the work bench.

“Saaaayyy!” gloated Jimmie. “You’ve got a whole batch of cats. She’s made a nest here, in the basket…”

“Awfft!” I protested vehemently.

“Come and see them,” pleaded Jim. “Aw, look, the tiny darlings, they haven’t got their eyes open…”

“Get them out of there,” I cried. “Chuck them out the window, the way they came in…”

“What!” roared Jim. “Do you mean to say you’d throw these baby kittens out into the cold world… a mother, honoring your house by selecting it for her nest for these tiny innocent…?”

“Yah, some alley cat!” I grated, standing well back where I couldn’t see them. “Some alley cat, sneaking in my cellar window…”

Jim reached into the shadows and brought out, on the palm of his hand, a little fuzzy ball, not as big as an egg. I looked away. I looked back. The fuzzy ball lay perfectly still on Jim’s hand. Then I slowly stirred. It cuddled down into Jim’s cupped palm.

“Put it back!” I commanded. “I’ll take the basket out…”

“Now, just a minute,” asserted Jim firmly. “After all, these are somebody’s kittens. This is somebody’s cat. You’ve got no right to treat somebody’s cat…”

“Why don’t they look after their darn cat?” I demanded angrily.

“Maybe she was caught unawares,” pleaded Jim. “Maybe she is a young cat and these are her first babies and she didn’t know what to do when the magic hour came to her. Maybe she was locked out of her own home by accident. Maybe the family was at the movies. She had to find a nest and maybe she had to find it terribly soon. So she went frantically up and down the street, in all the side drives, hunting for a dry, warm place…”

I went over and looked stiffly down.

“And by heaven’s grace,” Jim continued, “she found your cellar window open, and she came in, breathing prayers of gratitude, and found this basket, with old clothes in it…”

I could make out the curled figure of the cat. Her head was turned down, as though she were murmuring to a baby. She looked up at me, with wide, surprised topaz eyes that caught the cellar light. She opened her mouth in a soundless “meow.”

“How many are there?” I demanded grimly.

Jim, with soothing sounds, pawed in around the cat. “Six,” he said.

“Let me see them,” I requested coldly.

Jim lifted the mother cat out on to the floor, and revealed a solid fluffy mass, about the size of a handful of feathers. As I watched, the mass slowly pulsated and seemed to move. Tiny paws and miniature legs reached out and shoved. I suppose everybody should see a cat when it is newborn. I knelt down.

The mother came and rubbed against my leg. Her tail, sticking straight up, almost brushed my chin.

“Scat!” I said, recoiling.

“Well, what are you going to do?” inquired Jim pleasantly,

“Will you take them, Jim?” I retorted. “You like cats.”

“We’ve got two cats already,” said Jim. “And Rusty.”

Rusty, who had been asleep upstairs, came down. He examined the cat and the kittens with discreet interest.

“I tell you what I’ll do,” I said, very practically. “I’ll take them around the neighborhood, in the basket. I’ll ask everybody around here, and somebody will surely know whose cat she is. And I will then present the rightful owner with his property.”

“And suppose you don’t find them?” asked Jim. “After all, cats stray far and wide.”

“Then,” I said, “in that case, I’ll do what sensible people have been doing from time Immemorial. I’ll drown the kittens in a pail of water and turn the cat out to find her way home.”

“I guess that’s practical,” agreed Jimmie. “Everybody drowns kittens. The best of people. Not cat haters. Cat lovers. They drown surplus kittens.”

“Okay, before it gets dark,” I said, “let’s go round the block.”

The cat got back in the basket and I carried her and her invisible babies upstairs while we got our coats on. Then we went out and started our calls. I asked all the kids of the neighborhood if they recognized the cat. Or course, they all wanted to see the kittens, and I had to keep taking the mother out and putting her back, while dozens of kids pleaded for me to give them one of the kittens. I had to explain that a kitten has to have its mother for a few weeks.

Several of the kids gave us wrong steers, and we called at houses completely round the block once. But nobody recognized the cat. And everybody thought the family scene was just adorable. One lady wanted to adopt the whole family on the spot.

“Give her the basket!” muttered Jim, urgently.

But I did not. After all, this cat was somebody’s property. It was my duty find the rightful owner. And anyway, the more you looked into that basket, the queerer you felt. After all these years…

When we had made one complete round of the block, I decided I had done my duty. We went back to my house and down into the cellar.

“Drown the Weakest First”

“Ah, well….” sighed Jimmie, philosophically. And he got a pall under the laundry tubs and I heard him running it full. I set the basket on the stairs and the mother got out and looked at me with that surprised topaz gaze. She rubbed against my leg. I gave her a cautious, slow stroke of my hand. Gosh, how soft! Not mushy. Soft!

I could hear her bubbling. Not purring.

Jim came back and set the pail before me. He picked up the basket, sorted over the kittens and picked one out.

“First the worst,” he said. “Second the same. Drown the weakest one first.”

In my hand, I could feel its tiny little spickles of claws tickling. It wobbled, it half stood up on Its front legs, then collapsed. Its eyes were tiny bluish bulges under its skin.

“Go ahead,” said Jim, picking out another one, and holding it ready in his palm.

The kitten on my hand started turning round and round, as if seeking something. Its little legs and paws pushed and strained. It fell on its ear, against my thumb. It was softer than anything I had ever felt.

“I wish…” I said a little hoarsely, “I wish it was white.”

“That’s the weakest one,” explained Jim. “It’s a poor specimen, just a runt. I say you drown the weakest first, eh?”

The mother cat, seeing the pail of water, got up on her hind legs and curled a tiny, pink tongue down into the water and lapped. I never saw anything so dainty as that wisp of tongue flicking…

“I could advertise,” I submitted. “I could advertise, and the owner would pay for the ad…”

“It would be a lot of trouble,” declared Jim.

“Well, anyway,” I concluded, putting the weakest kitten back in the ball of fur in the basket, “if I keep them a few weeks, just until they are old enough to give away, all I’d have to do would be to go over and stand in front of the school at 3.30, and it wouldn’t be two minutes before all six of them would have a good home…”

“How about taking them back,” asked Jim, “to that lady around the block who wanted to adopt the whole basketful?”

“Yeah,” I said, “and have her drown all but the one she wanted to keep!”

“Well, then,” said Jim, “in that case, you’d better go and get the mother a saucer of warm milk…”

Which we did.

And then Jim and I went back upstairs and continued our debate on the effects of boogie-men on the childhood of the world.


Editor’s Notes: This story may have upset a few people looking at it with modern eyes, but it was common in the past to kill unwanted kittens or puppies. There was no spaying or neutering, and no other way to control the population. I mentioned in a previous post that people did not worry about controlling pets (dogs and cats would be let loose outside to run wild). So drowning puppies or kittens was not considered a big deal, just practical.

Greg would mention the story of his cat when he was a toddler in the future as well, so I suspect it is true.

This is another example where I have the colour image, and you can see how much more expressive it is compared to the microfilmed copy at the end.

There were three lines where they discussed boogie-men in other countries that I have removed due to racist references that added nothing to the story. My thoughts about racism and stereotypes in Greg and Jim’s work are indicated here.

Why Not A School Of Politeness For Minor Public Officials?

No Truth in the Rumor That the New Ontario Government Has Decided to Set Up Such an Institution – Possible Students Who Might Benefit by a Course.

Failing the School, Why Not Arm an Inspector With an Ammonia Pistol and Send Him Out in Search of Offenders Against the Meek and Lowly Common People?

By Gregory Clark, April 3, 1920

The report that the new Ontario Government is to open a School for Minor Public Officials seems to be unfounded.

I have interviewed several of the Cabinet Ministers on the subject, but not even the Deputy Ministers know anything about it.

The original rumor was to the effect that the UFO-Labor Government on behalf of the humble citizens of the Province, was going to open a college for the teaching of the elements of politeness, courtesy and the spirit of public service to all minor officials in the Government’s employ. The idea was to have not only Provincial minor officials but all other public officials, municipal and even Dominion, drilled and diplomad from the school.

Thus every one from the little girls who accept registered letters at the post office up to the elderly old gents who guard the mummies and insects at the Royal Ontario Museum, would be schooled in how to avoid offending or angering the public.

Hitherto, our politicians and men of power have been of that urbane and swell type which is always instantly recognized and kow-towed to by our minor officials. Ask any of the Cabinet Ministers of the past twenty years what he thought of the minor public officials, such as wicket-clerks or door-swingers, and he would reply:

“Why, I always found them most agreeable and very polite.”

Of course he did. And that was why we poor, unimpressive people always got such rough handling.

The minor official knows his public. He salaams to the swells and recovers his self-respect by bullying the plain citizen.

But as the new Government contains no swells at all, and as it is said several of our Cabinet Ministers have already had distressing encounters with petty officials who mistook them for ordinary citizens, it was hoped some such school of courtesy would be established.

However, if there is not to be a school, there is at least this consolation: that hundreds of public door-keepers, stamp-lickers and others of the minor degrees are having an unhappy time trying to pick Cabinet Ministers and influential members out of the common herd.

A few Sundays ago we visited the Royal Ontario Museum. There was an old gentleman engaged in twining the turnstile gate that admits the public. The gate would turn without his aid, but still he was turning it.

As we tried to enter, he stuck out his arm and cried:

“Stand back.”

“What’s the trouble?” we asked.

“You can’t come in here with that cane!” he replied.

“Oh,” we replied, agreeably, and turning, beheld a cane rack, with several canes and umbrellas in it. We walked over to it to place our cane.

“Hyah!” roared the old man at the turnstile.

We halted irresolute. The old fellow passed three or four more people through his turnstile and then strode over to us.

It appears, after all this bustle, that one is not permitted to take walking sticks into the Museum, but that sticks are taken and carefully checked by this old gentleman.

The school of courtesy would have done away with all this confusion and excitement by teaching the old fellow to say, as a citizen, approached with a cane –

“Just a moment, and I will check your walking stick.”

Inside the Museum, while looking at a glass case full of insects, we unfortunately placed the tip of one finger on the glass, to point out one particular specimen.

Instantly, from a far side of the room, another old boy in uniform bore down on us, crying –

“Say, do you want to give me six hours work to-morrow?”

“No. How’s that?” we replied.

“Well keep your hands off them glass cases,” replied the official, and strode onward in the performance of his public office.

The school would have taught him to say –

“Please keep hands off the cases, gentlemen, as I am an old man and don’t like extra work.”

The Museum is a beautiful and interesting institution, but it is difficult to enjoy the exhibits on account of one’s mind being startled and offended by petty officials making obscure assaults on one’s self on others or endlessly pursuing children from room to room.

Clerks, janitors and many other minor officials similarly disturb the honest citizen’s peace. The mistake most of them make is in presuming that certain facts well known to themselves should be perfectly well-known to all men.

The clerk who has been saying “Sign there!” a hundred times a day for twenty years knows perfectly well where “there” is. And it irritates him sorely to discover people, day after day, who haven’t any idea where “there” is, and who want to be shown.

When you hand a letter in the wrong wicket at the Post Office, it peeves beyond words the pert young lady or the scraggly man in the wicket. Haven’t you eyes? Can’t you see the sign over the wickets telling you just which is which? Why, she or he knows this office as well as they know their own names. What’s the matter with most people anyway?

The tax official thinks all men are experienced tax payers; to the record clerk, all men are acquainted with records; to the door keeper, all men are familiar with buildings.

But, of course, there are two sides of the question.

“You must admit,” says a well-known and always courteous member of the City Assessment Department, whose imperturbable good manners are one of the marvels of the City Hall, “you must admit there are people who go out of their way to be insolent and overbearing with public officials. Then there are others so stupid you wonder how they escape in the traffic. These types are only exceptions, but they sorely try an official’s temper as time goes on. There is, I believe, the official temperament. Officials would be chosen for an unrufflable and easy manner that quails not before the bully nor flares up with the dunderhead. But unfortunately, there are some in public positions who cringe before the bully or the official superior to them, and who seek to restore the balance of their dignity (or to get even) by bullying the decent quiet citizen.”

Seeing the Government is not going to institute a school for courtesy, there should at least be an official chosen yearly from the ranks of the polloi whose sole duty it would be to seek out and bring to court all insolent, rude or bullying public officials.

This Inspector should be a man of small stature and meek and humble bearing.

He should be armed with a large ammonia pistol or squirt gun.

On being subjected to any official insolence, he would’ whip out his squirt gun, shoot the ammonia into the tyrant’s face and drag the unconscious form before the Civil Service Commission.

The reason I insert the squirt gun is because this admits of that element of retaliation without which I, first applicant for the job, would feel unappeased.


Editor’s Note: There is no illustration to go with this tongue-in-cheek article by Greg, from over 100 years ago. In 1919, the United Farmers of Ontario won the provincial election, and formed a coalition government with the Labour party. This shocked the establishment, as the UFO members elected were mainly made up of ordinary people, and not the usual higher society people of the Conservative or Liberal parties. The joke is minor officials would not know who to suck up to. The surprise was probably not that much different than the more recent 1990 win by the provincial NDP. A popular joke from 1990 is of rich Bay Street financiers fretting over the NDP win, and one proclaiming “don’t worry, my cleaning lady is the new Minister of Finance!”

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